young student writing and peeking into a book to cheat
Inside the Classroom

4 Ways to Address Plagiarism in the Classroom

When I was a student teacher, I was tasked with determining if a student had plagiarized an assignment. This was before the day of plagiarism checkers, and I painstakingly typed sentences into a search engine, hoping to get a hit.

A few years after that, a student turned in a vignette about a life-changing experience. He wrote about a trip to Portugal where he drove a Fiat…in 1956. Catching him plagiarizing was easy, but today’s students are much craftier when it comes to plagiarism than yesterday’s students.

The acceleration of online education has brought unique challenges when it comes to academic integrity. It’s a whole new world of opportunity with websites that offer homework help—which provide a convenient way to cheat for some students.

Moreover, the degree of separation that comes with online classes gives students a false sense of security that they won’t get caught. According to PlagiarismToday, “the first line of defense when it comes to plagiarism” is the teacher’s in-person interaction with their students. “This relationship helps the instructor to know when something is ‘off’ about a student’s work or their behavior and take the opportunity to dig deeper.” However, many in-classroom teachers don’t have the time to interact with all or even most of their students regularly, so “there’s not a significant difference between a student that writes a paper at home and submits it electronically, whether they do it in an online or in-person class.”

While it is best to prevent plagiarism and other forms of cheating from happening at all, there are several ways for teachers to address plagiarism in the classroom:

  1. Make use of freely available resources, including full-text search engines, such as Plagiarism.org, and plagiarism search services, like the one offered by Grammarly.
  2. Keep an eye out for unusual turns of phrase or an inconsistent writing style compared to the student’s other writing assignments.
  3. Also look out for outdated information (like writing about driving around in 1956) or text that is formatted unusually or has a hidden hyperlink.
  4. And if you suspect plagiarism but cannot find evidence of it, set up a conference with the student and ask him/her specific questions about the paper.

It is easy to copy text from the Internet, but many teachers know when work is plagiarized. Dr. Scott Dalrymple, the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Excelsior College, wrote that educators are “better than ever at catching plagiarism,” and “they can tell that a perfectly-worded treatise sounds different from your previous work.”

I would have to agree. My built-in plagiarism detector is triggered when a student suddenly uses advanced vocabulary. This warning system sends me instantly to a plagiarism checker website where I submit the assignment and wait for the results. More often than not, my instinct is correct, and I must go through the extra work that comes with a plagiarized assignment. It would be easier for me to look the other way, but it’s a disservice to the student and their peers.

A TeachThought article notes that “by exposing students who choose to cheat, educators can help them improve and guide their potential in the right direction.” Taking the time to correct an academic integrity violation becomes a teachable moment and a lesson. I tell my students that it is easier to learn at the secondary level because cheating in college can get them expelled.

Establishing and enforcing consequences is the most effective way to prevent and address plagiarism in the classroom, but it is just as important to encourage academic integrity. According to Developmental Psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell, children “are not born with integrity,” but learn it from “adult role models,” like teachers and other education professionals. It is teachers who create a culture that fosters integrity, and integrity is something I want my students to leave my class with.

Sources

Bailey, J. (2019, July 30). Plagiarism, academic integrity and online education. Plagiarism Today. https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2019/07/30/plagiarism-academic-integrity-and-online-education/

Dalrymple, S. (n.d.). Online plagiarism and academic dishonesty does not escape this online college dean. Get Educated. https://www.geteducated.com/elearning-education-blog/online-plagiarism-and-academic-dishonesty-does-not-escape-this-online-college-dean/

Gorenko, Y. (n.d.). 4 common ways students avoid plagiarism detection. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/technology/4-common-ways-students-avoid-plagiarism-detection/

McMurtry, K. (2001, November 11). e-cheating: Combating a 21st century challenge. THE Journal. https://thejournal.com/articles/2001/11/01/echeating-combating-a-21st-century-challenge.aspx

MIT Comparative Media Studies. (n.d.). Resources for teachers: How to detect plagiarism. https://cmsw.mit.edu/writing-and-communication-center/resources/teachers/detect-plagiarism/

Price-Mitchell, M. (2015, June 9). Creating a culture of integrity in the classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-creating-culture-integrity-marilyn-price-mitchell

TeachThought Staff. (n.d.). 10 signs of plagiarism every teacher should know. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/10-signs-of-plagiarism-every-teacher-should-know/

About the Author

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Holly White

Holly White is an English teacher with a not-so-secret desire to write. She has an MFA from Lindenwood University, and has taught both English and social studies, but mainly English, for 10 years. She spent most of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay area but recently moved because it became too expensive on a teacher’s salary. Currently, she is teaching for Edgenuity and loves it.